(first posted 8/9/2012) It was on our first vacation to Colorado in 1961, in our elderly and dumpy 1954 Ford. It had slowly chugged us up Trail Ridge Road to Millner Pass. In the parking lot was a 1961 Cadillac sedan, and we pulled in next to it. We (all six of us) gladly got out of the crowded car, and while the rest looked at the Alpine scenery I gazed at the Caddy. We got back in, and the Ford wouldn’t start. It was vapor lock, and not for the first time. While waiting (with the hood up, for the Y-block to cool so that the gas would stop boiling), my face was glued to the Caddy’s window. A perfect family of three, including a cute blond girl my age, approached and I quickly moved out of the way. As the girl opened the giant back door, my longing to slide in there was overpowering: “Please take me with you.”
My body language must not have been sufficient (or maybe excessive). The Don Draper-ish dad hit the starter, and the Caddy instantly sprung to life, backed out and whisked them up to the highest point of 12,183 feet with a barely audible whisper from its exhaust. Growing up is a bitch.
And here they are, enjoying all the air-conditioned space in the back of that Cadillac, on their way back to Kansas City (the Kansas side). Meantime, the Niedermeyers dripped on each other, all four kids jammed into the back of the Ford with its itchy upholstery. Yes, some folks knew how to enjoy the driving part of their vacation, although one didn’t hardly ever see Cadillacs at the trailheads. Can’t exactly see Betty Draper climbing a mountain. We all find our pleasures.
whitewall buick caught this 1961 Series 62 four window sedan at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. Now that’s the way to see the USA, as no car ever had better 360º vision than one of these flying-wing hardtops. The ’61 Caddy is one of my all-time favorites, and here it is in my favorite element: on vacation. “Please let me in!”
Perfect. The wife and I and our 2.3 kids took a long road trip this spring in our well-chilled Fusion. I forestalled any whining with the tale of your trip to the NY World’s Fair in the Fingerhut Fairlane, with siblings joined at the sweaty thighs. “Remember the Niedermeyers!”
That mom in the ’61 ad could not look any more like Betty.
I’ll bet that Betty Draper’s resemblance to the mother in the advertisement is no accident. That mom represented the “ideal” woman of the early 1960s – blond, slim and elegantly coifed. The producers of Mad Men knew what they were doing when they cast the actress (January Jones) for the part of Betty Draper. If a man had been featured in this ad, I’ll bet he would have looked a lot like Jon Hamm.
It’s from the brochure. Here’s “Don” from the same one, with one of his “girls”.
Actually she looks like my Mum, (right look and age, ) But my mum would more likely be in a Ford ad!
My Uncle Bob had one of these in Johnny Cash black. It rode like a cloud. It was the most luxurious vehicle that I’ve ever had the pleasure to ride in. Quiet to the extreme, plenty of torque, it soaked up all but the harshest road imperfections and had plenty of room for everyone to stretch out. I can see how someone who is on the road all the time in sales or something would want a sled like this, who wants to be beaten up by the road and go to bed exhausted every night? Yes, I’m sure all the electronic geegaws broke eventually, it got horrible mileage even back then, and it had absolutely no sporting pretense at all, but so what? It did it’s job perfectly.
I can’t imagine feeding it’s X mpg thirst now. Imagine the gasoline bill at the end of the day. What kind of mileage did these get?
These got surprisingly good mileage. The Cadillac 390 was coupled to the 4 speed Jetaway HydraMatic which allowed a fairly tall axle ratio. I have read that these were good for 14-15 mpg on the road, maybe a touch more. When the 429 replaced the 390 in 1964, it developed a bit of a reputation as a gas hog compared to the earlier engine.
My 63 Fleetwood, however, was not a good example. The carb was terribly out of whack and it got me about 7.5 mpg on premium most of the time, and maybe 10 or 11 on the highway. Yuck. But it was fast for a 5200 pound car. Floor the gas pedal from a stop and mine left 3 black streaks – two tires and one exhaust.
14-15 sounds believable. My first car was a ’66 Chevy with 283 and Powerglide, and got 16-17 on the highway, maybe 11-12 in in-town use. The highway mileage could go to 18 under optimal conditions (straight and level road, sticking to the 55 mph limit).
As I understand it, and I am not sure that the later hydramatics used this design, but in high gear (and third) the engine’s torque is not all going through the fluid coupling which greatly reduces slip. When the 429 became the engine the transmission was replaced with the turbohydramatic which did not use this split torque design. So the torque converter slip was greater than the old hydramatic.
Dynaflow’s were quite thirsty transmissions.
The original Dynaflow was (I think) like two torque converters in a row. They (as in 1955) didn’t grab a low gear unless floored from a start. Generally it was a CVT, except with the inefficiency of a torque converter times two. They hadn’t thought of cruising speed lockup yet.
The first generation dynaflow had a complex torque converter design with a turbine (connected to the output shaft), two stators (with different pitch), and the impeller (pump) which was in two parts, one that could overrun. The dynaflow had a low range, selected by the driver. The second generation dynaflow was more conventional in design, with one pump and stator. The turbine was divided into two parts, one geared down and which would overrun at cruise. Again, a driver selected low range was available, but not automatic.
Yes, that is a luxury car. Modern cars that are classified as luxury cars are just expensive, not luxurious.
You said it! I am a fellow labourer under the assumption that a car has to qualify as luxurious to be called a luxury car. Unfortunately, the market tends to disagree with you and I.
The ladies in the middle picture are lounging in the back of a Fleetwood Sixty Special. Ahhh, luxury. Around the time I had my 63 in the late 1970s, a neighbor kid got a 61 Coupe DeVille that his dad bought from an elderly client. A silver-blue car with a white roof. The 61 had some bondo along the tops of the front fenders, but was a pretty nice old car for having lived almost 20 years in the salty upper midwest. The thin roof pillars of the DeVilles was a very different look from my formal black Sixty Special.
I, for one, love that metallic pink. We had family friends with a 62 LeSabre in that color. The wife must have been persuasive to get her husband (a former WWII bomber pilot) to pick the pink one.
Well, if he was in the 12th Air Force (North Africa), his bomber may well have been painted “sand” (which looked somewhat pinkish). Maybe he liked the color!
Well I can empathize with your hot sweaty moments in the summer of 1961. I was in Navy boot camp and probably would have traded places with you.
I owned several 53 fords and avoided the 54. I didn’t think the small y block was an improvement. In fact, I think I would have preferred the six for that year.
I think I need to go take a nap now. Memories of 1961 always do that to me.
I had a very similar vacation experience when I was fourteen, in 1961. We were on a summer driving trip through Northern California in our 1959 Ford Galaxie, and Dad decided to treat us to a stay at the Mammoth Mountain Inn at Mammoth Lakes. The hotel was relatively new and very luxurious, and this promised to be a rare experience for us. As we pulled into the hotel parking area in our dusty, dirty, bug splattered Ford, and as my brother and I (both very tall at this age) extricated ourselves from the 2-door back seat, there sitting side by side under the hotel porte cochere were a 1960 and a 1961 Cadillac. I was enthralled to see these two models (can’t remember now if they were sedans or coupes) looking like an image out of a Cadillac brochure. I stood there for the longest time, mentally comparing the design differences between the two years (the ’61 won hands down, in my young mind). We felt a bit like the Clampetts just arriving from a cross-country odyssey, our Ford spilling over with the kind of detritus a family accumulates on a long road trip, pillows, food wrappers, Kleenex boxes, water jugs (no plastic bottles in those days), and more. These cars were so pristine in this elegant setting, we felt very out of place. Never did see who the lucky people were who owned these leviathans, but once we hit the hotel swimming pool, we settled in and had a great time.
I have always thought the ’61 and ’62 Cadillacs were the pinnacle of Cadillac design, and I’ve told the story how my father very nearly acquired a ’62 Series 62 coupe the next year, until my mother put the kibosh on things. What could have been!
I’m a big fan of those GM roof lines. Did the ’61-’62 designs ever seem out of place on the Cadillac design trajectory to anyone else? The ’63 & ’64 Cadillacs looked like an update of the ’60, but the ’61-’62 seemed more modern than its successors until ’65. There has to be a story there, and I was born a decade too late to see it first hand.
The 1961 four window hardtops were the worse selling models for GM, (used on Oldsmobile 98, Buick Electra also), so they were dropped for 1962. Yet I find that style the most beautiful, modern and futuristic, as well as providing 100% visibility.
Hank, I think you described the styling trajectory very well, but to my eye, the ’61 and ’62 models did not look as good as their predecessors or successors. While the earlier ones were beautiful in their over the top way, the ’63 and ’64 were cleaner and more elegant. This will sound weird, but when I was a very little kid (late 60s) there was something about the ’61 and ’62 that sort of scared me! It amazes me how aware I was of different cars and the year to year model changes at the ages of 3 or 4!
I can see that. I always favored the ’64 and the ’60, and this design took a while for me to warm up to.
This brings back memories. I remember looking for the telltale puddle of water under cars in the late 1960s or early 1970s during the summer months..that was the sign that the car had air conditioning. Which was still a big deal in small-town Pennsylvania at that time. By that point, we also knew that all Cadillacs had air conditioning (even though I believe that it was still technically an option).
Our 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 Holiday sedan had a black vinyl interior – and no air conditioning. Yes, it was very hot in the summer. I only had one sibling, so we could at least give each other plenty of room in the back seat.
And, with apologies to Zackman, that is why I didn’t care that the rear windows didn’t roll down in the new Colonnade coupes. I didn’t want to ride around with the wind in my hair (I could do that in my parents’ creaky old 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air wagon).
I wanted to roll up to the Tropical Treat (the town’s main take-out restaurant) in a snazzy new air-conditioned Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme or Pontiac Grand Am.
The 61 is one of my favorite Cadillacs. The horizontal side fins are neat. I’ve loved Cadillacs my entire life. The earliest recollection I have of a Cadillac is when I must have been about 3. (About 1955) My Dad and I were sitting in his 51 Chevy at a parking garage in Pittsburgh, PA, waiting for my mother and aunt to return from shopping. My Dad and I took a walk around the garage, and I immediately zeroed in on a gray sedan with amber fog lights built into the grill. I asked my Dad what kind of car was that, and he replied a Cadillac. (I’d guess about a 51 or 52. I can still see that beautiful car in my memory.)
He told me that my mother would not let him buy a car like that. It cost too much money. I told him I’d buy one some day, and let him drive it.
Well, at age 28 I bought a nice but troublesome 14 year old 1966 Deville convertible. I was hooked after that. Have had some sort of Cadillac since then, mostly nice old models.
That 66 got 8 MPG, had the 429. I kept my promise to my Dad, he drove one until he passed.
At my high school summer job in 1966, one of my teenage co-worker friends was from Detroit and his family stayed at their cabin at our lake resort area in the summer. He had the use of their dark blue 1961 Cadillac Sedan DeVille. Detroit winters had already taken their toll as rust had invaded various lower body panels, and the exhaust system was sounding pretty rough. The A/C no longer worked, and the pale blue cloth upholstery was somewhat worn and faded.
But it was a still a beautiful car in my eyes, one of my favorite Cadillacs of the era, so svelte and stylishly trim compared to the porky 58-60 models. We had a lot of fun bombing around in that car with all the windows down listening to 60’s rock and the V8 burble. Good times.
Today I wouldn’t mind having a 61 Coupe DeVille in the rose metallic that was so popular in the day.
Only 5 yrs old and already falling apart? Perhaps even back then, Caddy’s were all style and not much substance. I have actually always wondered about the ’50s/’60s when cars changed almost every year – how could they keep changing tooling and parts and still keep a high assembly quality?
How funny to see this in such nice condition. The same model parks near my home, though the color is primer-gray, the shiny bits are askew, and the upholstery looks like it fell into a volcano. Oh, and one tire is huge and blocky and ancient–like something you’d expect to find on a 4wd cornbinder gathering dust in a barn.
Anyway, the weird thing about this 50-yr-old Cadillac on my street is how BAD its condition is. Around here (Boston), there is simply no space to store a junky old jalopy that you tinker with on weekends. So all of the classics in town are show-ready toys belonging to the local plutocrats (or at least the solidly upper-middle class) who can afford plenty of garage space. Though it’s a bit sad to see how rough that Caddy is, it’s also wonderful to see a rusty rocket ship driven by… just some guy. He could’ve chosen a 1996 Pontiac Grand Am, but for some reason, he picked this. There’s nothing else like it in town.
My earilest childhood memory is automotive! I was a sickly toddler and was fighting some kind of pneumonia where I spent time in an oxygen tent. From what my mother tells me, I was seht home, but had a relapse of sorts.
I remember the pediatrician driving up to the front of our house and I remember he pulled up in (what I now know the year of) that old GM metallic fuscia . . . ’61 Cadillac. A coupe – probably a series 62 . . . anyway, I remember he came in and right in the living room gave me a shot (penicillin) in the rear.
I was maybe about two and a half, so this must have been early 1962.
Fast forward to October, 2008 in Alameda, California. That annual car show that lines Park Street in downtown Alameda. I saw my first (and only) vista roofed four-window ’61 Caddy (Sedan de Ville) ever. Through the years, I saw many series 62 1961 coupes and six window sedans, Coupe de Villes, Sedan de Villes (all six window) and some Fleetwood Sixty Specials. This one in Alameda was a white four window with black and silver thread jacquard seats with white leather/vinyl bolsters. No a/c – but this was typical of Northern California (Bay Area) cars, including most luxury cars then. This was a well preserved survivor.
Personally, my favorite ’60’s Caddies are the ’63 and ’64.
One of my favourite cars Paul. The Park Avenue (with short rear deck) is even better. However, what did you mean Mr. Draper `hit’ the starter? Even a Caddy had one of *those* GM starters? 🙂
“Hit the starter” was a common expression, its origins going back to the time when almost all cars had a starter “button” on the floor. But it’s anachronistic now.
I watch old movies on TCM. If you notice when a lot of drivers get in the car in 30-40″s they grab the steering and look like they are stretching backwards they are actually using their right to hit the floor starter. I have owned a couple of vehicles with a floor starter.
My paper route for the Independent Journal (1972-74) – one of the streets of my San Rafael route (Jewell Street) had a ’62 Park Avenue – metallic green over green. The only “shorty” Cadillac I ever saw in the flesh.
my wife and graduate high school daughter in 3 years will be taken a road trip on a 61 Cadillac 4 window sedandeville like this from san diego, California to the tip of South America…cant wait till it finally comes real the day we leave our house, our job behind and hit the road for this adventure.
That roofline looks pretty unusual to my eye. I believe that that the 6 window roofline was much more common in 1961, and the similar 1962 model moved to a wide Fleetwood style sail panel.
I really didn’t like that rose color when I was a kid in the early ’70s, but it has kind of grown on me. I don’t think it was a huge seller, but it is rather iconic of the early 1960’s.
I like how the ad with the beautiful Mom and daughter advertises the seat belts, and then shows a picture of it unbuckled laying next to Mom on the seat.
It doesn’t look good with whitewalls. FACT.
Baloney on that!
That Caddy was made for Whitewalls!
Now, paint it Black and you have perfection.
Nice car, very toned down from the `60 version. A nice way for Caddy to begin what was probably its best decade since the 50s. The 4 window is nice, but for some reason I prefer the 6 window. It looks a bit longer, but I wouldn`t argue if somebody gave me this one. BTW, who are Don and Betty Draper?
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Air conditioning was an option on Cadillacs into tne 1960s. When my Dad was looking for his first Cadillac he checked out a used 1963 six-window Series Sixty-Two Sedan. For a Cadillac, it was a stripper: no air conditioning, and manual crank windows.
He didn’t buy that one.
The Sixty-Two also had cloth-and-vinyl upholstery. You had to step up to a DeVille to get leather and a plusher cloth.
Just in case any of you are super excited about this car, I found a gorgeous 1961 Fleetwood Sixty Special in Dresden Blue Metallic for sale at http://www.motorcarportfolio.com/product.php?id=12028 for only $18995. This one even has rear wing windows that make it look even sharper I think.
I remember when I got my 94 Seville STS, It was two years old and and it had only 28 thousand miles. It was Black on Black with a moon roof and chromed stock alloys. It was a real beauty and my family and I drove that thing everywhere. I remember stopping at the beach along Highway One and feeling that we had just stepped out of a Cadillac ad. If you never got to enjoy these classic Cadillacs you don’t know what you missed.
There was always a story about those 61 Cadillac tail lights. This was the year that they went horizontal. The story was that it made them much harder to convert to hearses and ambulances. Supposedly the companies doing the conversions complained enough that from 62 onward they went back to traditional Cadillac tail lights.
Cadillac’s tail lights were consistent from 1948 through 1956 with a small tail light fin. Then 57 and 58 had a small round light with back up paired with it (horizontal configuration). The 59-60 models had lights on the fins and below. The 61’s tail lights were a one year version, then 62 started with a more vertical style that became more pronounced with time and a style for Cadillac. Cadillac’s current tail lights are different, but not unlike these.
Nice car and better stories .
I have difficulty choosing the best year of Caddy ~ a ’51 Coupe would be nice but then again so would a ’65 four door Sedan…..
Many of the late ’60’s through early 70’s Drop Tops are nice too , hard to choose .
For the fin’s I like the 59 Eldorado. Without fins, a 63-65 Eldorado.
Here’s a 61 convertible I saw, also from south dakota
So much of the 1961-62 styling was previewed by the 1959-60 Eldorado Brougham, particularly the latter. Since this was the first Cadillac handled mostly by Bill Mitchell, one can see a degree of the toning-down process from the last of the Misterl reign. The linear side sculpting was an exaggerated version of that seen on the ’60 Brougham, the six window greenhouse styling almost verbatim. While 1961-62’s are attractive, for my taste, I would prefer it if Mitchell had also applied the ’60 Brougham’s more subtle side surface development as well.
While I’m also in the “prefer the ’60” camp, this is still a gorgeous and elegant car. They really and truly don’t make ’em like that anymore…
I like these Cadillacs, but they are not nearly as elegant as a 1960 Chrysler New Yorker, with the perfect fin design and elegant boom-a-rang in the fin tail lights.
Beautiful color–love those soft metallics of early 60’s Cadillacs. Question for any Cadillac experts for that era. My grandmother had a ’61, black, four doors, and I’ve been unable to find any photos on the web of such a model: not a six-window sedan, not a Fleetwood, but with a thick C-pillar like that of the Fleetwood lacking the downward curve/angle on the rear or the roof, so not a wrap-around rear window. Beautiful black-and-white vinyl upholstery. No “deVille” badges.
I’m guessing that it was a low-volume “Town Car” or “Park Avenue,” shorter than Sedan de Villes, but the web hasn’t yielded any images. I’ve seen plenty of images of ’62s that look exactly like it, except for the taillights, which definitely are 1961. Could this be a unicorn car? Or is my memory failing?
Here’s a ’62 with the same roof-line and C-pillars:
The 61 Caddy is also my favorite. Along with the 59-60 Brougham, the one assembled in Italy.
Where the fins came from – 1958 Firebird III
Don Draper got a ’62 Cadillac two door hardtop with the formal roof because it was the dream car of the show’s creator. Betty’s father had a ’61 Lincoln Continental which Betty inherited when he died.
I would have given Don the Lincoln, which to me is the perfect modern Mad Man car of the early sixties, and a Cadillac (only a four door sedan or hardtop) for Betty’s dad.
Is it the ’61 or ’62 or both that has the body color between the vanes of the turbine wheel covers?
That must be a bother to do or redo.
Beautiful car, when Cadillacs were Cadillacs! I only learned from CC that the 4-window flat top hardtop survived beyond 1960; they must not have been common back in the day.
A/C was optional at least through 1967; my great aunt didn’t like cold air drafts (sound familiar?), so my great uncle bought a Calais 2-door hardtop that year without a/c.
An aunt and uncle inherited a 67 Calais 4 door hardtop from his parents when they aged out of driving. The old folks had popped for the air conditioning but not for power windows – that Calais still had window cranks, surely one of the last Cadillacs so equipped.
Took me a while to be sure that ’61-2 Cad stayed down. lol
But that’s subjective so no qualms with those who took a liking to ’em.
Last of the “old” Cad engine getting nicely to the peak of its refinement.
Also nearing the final refinements to the last of the transmissions designed with Reverse in its proper logical and better placement – at the bottom of the range selector.
The ’61 Cadillac looks great now, but I imagine it may have looked a tad dated when new, despite being an all-new design. Flat side glass was becoming passe (Imperials had curved glass since 1957, and Lincolns adopted it in ’61), and the wraparound rear window was distinctly ’50s with the thick C pillars popularized by the Thunderbird and Continental catching on in a big way. The 61 Cadillac grille, though not unattractive, is strangely generic compared to those that came before and after.
I agree. That was one of the things that struck me about the 1987 movie “Tin Men”, was how cheap and ugly the grilles looked on the ’61 Cadillacs.
Just goes to show how vastly different peoples tastes are for styling. I’ve always thought the 61 Cadillac grill was one of the most beautiful designs of all time.
Gotta admit, those Not-Niedermeyers had taste. There was hope for the cheapskates (and children thereof) in the ’61 GM line, though, even the cheapest Chevy Biscayne had that great curved A-pillar and wraparound rear glass, and was available – at no extra cost – in a wide choice of great metallic pastels (if not what Chevy would later call Evening Orchid).
By ’63-4 all of them but the Pontiac would look like the boxes the ’61s came in.